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A Day Off

Friday 16 September: I see A. off at 7:15. I will meet her for lunch at noon. I awake leisurely. Amble to the station, on the 10.11 Lightrail to Hoboken. Then the PATH to 23rd; I stop in at Garden for some coffee. The 1 Train to Times Square, Shuttle to Grand Central Station. Walk to 3rd Avenue.

The East Side: clean, corporate. A diplomat’s motorcade coming from the UN goes by, cordoned off down the middle of 42nd St, a small swarm of police motorcycles chirping through the intersections. I finish my coffee with a steep tilt of the head – and I am suddenly looking up at the Chrysler Building directly, vertiginously, overhead. I can make out the hubcaps ringing the twentysomethingth floor.

A. can’t get away for lunch, so: retrace my steps back to Time Square, and the 1 Train uptown. (I would say “north,” except no one here knows those directions: it’s all uptown, downtown, crosstown, east or hudson riverward.)

I notice that subway cars are more cramped than PATH cars: the seats themselves, each one a molded plastic bucket seat, are narrower, so even in cars that are not particularly full, everyone tends to sit shoulder to shoulder.

Off at 110th St and up two blocks. There’s Tom’s Restaurant. Turn right at the corner, and, midway down the block that stares at the cathedral (which stares fixedly back) is Labyrinth Books.

I have resolved to pick up The Guermantes Way, the next volume of Lost Time, but I want to give my money to an independent, so instead of stopping in at the Barnes & Noble around the corner from work, I have travelled all the way up to Labyrinth.

They don’t have it.

They have a whole shelf of Proust, but not Volume 3 of the Penguins. Despondent, I linger in the poetry section and spot the Basil Bunting I’ve been eyeing for years. I carry it around for a while. No Guy Davenport at all (well, okay, yes, they have some, but not the one I’ve been looking for). I put the Bunting back, and head back downstairs. I stop at the new arrivals: there is the second of three Celan translations by Pierre Joris, Threadsuns. I have been carrying Lightduress around with me since May.

I pick it up, and go back for the Bunting. I take a wrong turn, and find myself looking at a shelf of Zukofsky, and I see Prepositions+ on sale, 25% off. Grab it. Back downstairs. Now there is suddenly a rush at the checkout, so I mill around. Hm. A “New Fiction” section. And there they are, a clutch of copies of Guermantes.

Then to the Heights Café, which is on the 2nd floor and the roof of a 2-story building on Bway btw 112th and 111st. $5.50 lunches till 4pm. I sit by a tall open window looking down on Bway. A massive chicken quesadilla, with carmelized onions and red peppers.

Back down to Grand Central Station to people-watch and buy some flowers.

After a long slow start to the day — head storms and pains, and the indecisions of a day off — I have grown fond of the endless busyness of the city. At the food court, I sit in a plastic chair shaped like an overstuffed wing chair and watch the panoply of human shapes (including constant alarm at what people will or, to everyone else’s sorrow, won’t wear), awash with the constant milling hubbub. A college-age girl walks by with a handmade tee that reads Smart boys turn me on. She is destined for a life of loneliness and frustration.

I meet A. and we find a cab on 38th St that takes us by way of the old fish market, over cobblestone, to the WTC PATH station. A Hoboken train one stop to Exchange Place, past the disquieting Katyn memorial, and home on the lightrail.

No energy to cook; not interested in the Mexican place; pizza too greasy. So: cereal. To sleep.

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